Portsmouth writer and S&C Editor in Chief Sarah Cheverton explains why she’s passionate about women voting in GE2015.
1. For the same reason humans climb mountains – because you can. However, many women across the world cannot influence the governments that run – and in many cases ruin – their daily lives, because they do not have the vote at all. There are two countries where women are denied suffrage – Vatican City and Saudi Arabia, we’re talking to you – and others where women’s ability to vote is restricted. In Lebanon, for example, women are only allowed to vote if they can demonstrate they received a primary education, although no such restrictions apply to men. There’s nothing and no one stopping women in this country from voting – and that includes you. So go climb that mountain.
2. Because the personal is political – and gender equality, whether you subscribe to the ‘F-word’ or not, is still a long way off. According to the Fawcett Society, 74% of the £22 billion of austerity savings – or cuts as you might know them – have come from women’s pockets. Under the coalition, women’s unemployment hit the highest levels in 25 years, while for women in work the news is hardly much better. The 15% gender pay gap in the UK is one of the highest in the EU and just increased for the first time in 5 years. Women currently comprise the majority of low paid workers, while the value of that pay packet is rapidly declining. Finally, the UK also recently came 25th in the Women in Work Index, having one of the lowest proportions of women in full-time employment in 27 OECD countries. And if the words ‘But that’s not fair!’ just entered your mind or left your lips, it’s time to put your vote where your mouth is.
3. Because of reason number 2, the biggest issues of the election directly and disproportionately affect women. If you’re interested in crime and justice, the Council of Europe recently announced that England and Wales has one of the lowest proportions of female judges, with only 25% of the judiciary being women; within that, only 21 of the 108 High Court judges are women. Meanwhile, in 2012-2013, almost 23 thousand sexual offences against under -18s were reported to police in England and Wales, 4 out of 5 cases involving girls. 25% of young women aged over 13 experience physical violence and 72% experience emotional abuse in their own relationships. And if you’re even thinking about saying ‘What about men though?’ at this point, stop and read this. As a woman you are more likely to be affected by the next government’s policies than the next man. Literally, the next man. Do something about it.
4. Because when women aren’t engaged with politics, issues that affect them are the first to become political footballs. In a recent exchange between Harriet Harman and Nick Clegg at Prime Minister’s Question Time, Harman highlighted that there has been a 90% decrease in women pursuing sex discrimination cases due to the introduction of tribunal fees; two thirds of those affected by the bedroom tax are women and 85% of the beneficiaries of income tax cuts are men. If women’s votes can’t be counted in the ballot box, our best interests won’t count in the House of Parliament.
5. Because the suffragettes kicked some serious arse so that you could vote. An oldie but goodie reason this one, but the fact that these women chained themselves to fences, committed acts of arson, went to prison, starved themselves and were force-fed there, and that Emily Davidson went so far as to throw herself in front of a horse, should make you think twice about not voting – shouldn’t it? And if it doesn’t, maybe this Lady Gaga spoof about suffrage of American women will change your mind.
5. Because you could set a really good example by voting. In 2010, only 39% of women aged 18-24 used their vote, compared to 50% of men the same age. In 2014, the Girl Guides published a study that found only 21% of young women had any interest in politics at all. Throughout this election campaign, my constant screeching at political leaders has led to great discussions with my 22 year old sister and even with my 4 year old niece. My sister will be voting in the next election and I hope her daughter grows up understanding the importance of her vote. Forget Cheryl Cole and Jessie J, most of us act as real life role models to young people. If we’re not bothered to vote, why should they?
7. Because the women’s vote may decide this election, so the future of the country could be down to you (yes, I mean you, right there. You look great, by the way). According to a recent poll for Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, 35% of women still don’t know who to vote for, compared to 25% of men, making women crucial to the outcome of the election. Men are also far more likely to vote for UKIP than women, and if that doesn’t convince you, nothing will.
8. Because more women are needed in politics. We make up over half the population but barely 23% of MP’s. And if you’re not convinced that we need more women MPs, re-read reasons 2 and 3, then think again. If women aren’t engaged as voters, how likely is it that we will be engaged in becoming politicians? So, start your own political career at the ballot box, and drag some of your friends there, too.
9. Because women aren’t only under-represented in politics, women politicians are misrepresented. Seen this?Even when we do hear about the female candidates in the media, we’re more likely to hear a comment on their sense of fashion than on their politics. More women voting forces a mandate to treat women politicians with respect and credibility. Imagine that.
— James Melville (@JamesMelville) April 16, 2015
10. Because we’re human, too – so for all the same reasons as everybody else. The healthiest democracies are those where everyone uses their vote and where everyone’s interests are equally represented. As American drama critic George Jean Nathan said, ‘Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote,’ and as he also said, ‘I only drink to make other people seem more interesting’, I’m inclined to believe him.